Raph al Guul
So you want to be rich, you want to win fame.
Your face on a poster… immortal your name.
So you want a good life on the highest top level.
Then bet your soul and turn the wheel…
It’s gambling with the devil!
Talking about misleading headlines – no, I am not about to promote Satanism or recommend that you experiment with your religious views. I have noticed that among the diverse topics on this fine blog, there is a distinct lack of metal. While I will agree with Sabaton’s optimistic proclamation that metalheads “are the masters of the world,” I do believe that it would be fantastic if a couple more masters of the world were out there. So instead of a book recommendation, today I will try to interest you in an album by the German power metal band Helloween: Gambling with the Devil.
Since this particular album from 2007 is especially dear to me – surprisingly, it is the first Helloween album I ever heard – I will try to be particularly thorough. However, as I know that not everybody wants to indulge themselves in my boundless fandom, I will first provide a few general thoughts that might introduce the genre, the history, the band, and the album to people who may not be familiar with it and simply like to think of themselves as open to new things, such as different musical styles. And don’t worry; if you don’t like it, no one will be offended.
Let’s begin with a tricky question: what is power metal? Generally, it is treated as a subgenre of heavy metal. To be honest, I personally disagree with that. I can see the traces of heavy metal – and Gambling has its fair share of “heavy metal moments” – but even so, I don’t think the melodic, speedy music that I like is a manifestation of what is generally categorized as “heavy metal” which I appreciate significantly less. Power metal is often called an attempt to revive 80s hair metal, but when we’re talking about Helloween, that shouldn’t matter much, as this band was already around in the 80s. They’re not reviving anything, they’re continuing something that they themselves started. In the end, the only vague but universally true answer to what power metal really is would be: it’s metal. And when it comes to European power metal (I am sorry, Manowar, Angra, Kamelot, and Co. but the Europeans are just better at it), I doubt there is any band with a greater legacy than Helloween who have been there since the beginning. It is thus only fitting that if you ever want to check out this genre, you should start with the founding fathers of German power metal.
However, if you were particularly interested in the legacy of the band, you’d probably start with something older than Gambling. Keeper of the Seven Keys immediately comes to mind. In fact, if you don’t consider yourself a metalhead and are under the impression that metal tends to be just a bunch of unintelligible noises, then you’d probably be better off with those older releases, as Gambling is heavy and loud – really loud. The kind of loud you use swearwords to describe. The reason I am still insisting on this album instead of a more famous one is simply that, as already mentioned, I myself was introduced to the band by this album. Granted, I already knew the amazing “I Want Out” before that, but in terms of an entire album, Gambling holds a special place in my little metal heart.
The album, as the title suggests, is somewhat dark. Helloween has always been known for rather quirky, silly songs and escapist fantasy themes that are not to be taken too seriously. And to be honest, that has been one of the typical aspects of power metal until today. However, together with The Dark Ride and Helloween’s latest disc 7 Sinners, Gambling constitutes an angrier, darker approach to similar themes. This means that instead of the usual overwhelming happiness, one might find explosive anger in the songs on this album. I would be skeptical about this, to be honest. I prefer happiness to anger. But there’s nothing wrong with a crazy landslide of sheer fury for a change, either. It’s all in the execution.
I will shortly start commenting on the individual songs. However, if you really don’t want to listen to the entire album and just want a taste, or if you would like to know which song might be representative of the entire album and/or band, let me quickly talk about that. Most of all, if you are not a metal person, I do not recommend you start with the first (though technically second) track on the album. “Kill It“, as the title already hints at, is a very aggressive song and probably not the best choice for musical tourists. I’d recommend “The Saints“, “As Long As I Fall“, “Final Fortune“, and “Can Do It“. If you’d like to know why, scroll down to the individual titles for more information.
Now, let’s dive into it, shall we? (Protip: If you want to listen to the tracks that I am talking about but don’t actually own the album, you can click on the track number which then will hopefully open a new tab with a youtube link to the particular song. Please remember to support artists and buy their work if you like it!)
01 Crack the Riddle (Intro)
“Crack the Riddle” is the 50 second intro that sets the mood for the album. If you already know it, you also might have noticed that I shamelessly plagiarized the lyrics of this intro at the beginning of the article. There is no need to say much about it; it obviously corresponds with the album art: the devil is hanging out at a fun fair, inviting people to place their souls in a promising bet. I think the notion that the devil would be so blatantly obvious is intriguing. What is even more intriguing though is that the intro ends with the sound of the spinning wheel, which then seamlessly merges with “Kill It”, the first song on the album. The intro conveys the impression that the entire album is the result of the participation in a dangerous game, one that will take us on a roller coaster – high, low, fast, slow, far away, and deep inside.
02 Kill It
When I first heard this song, I didn’t like it. After the rather quiet album-intro, the spinning of the wheel merges with a drum- and guitar-heavy song that pushes and even obscures its faint melody with unstoppable force. Andi Deris’ screaming and growling always used to appal me, especially when all he was screaming was “Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!” I like to think of myself as a peaceful person and I never quite understood why they would sing something so atrociously violent until I listened to the lyrics a bit more closely. I would encourage you to do that with every Helloween song, since their writing usually is more thought-out and intricate than that of most fellow metal bands. I think it’s somewhat fitting that “Kill It” provides us with the devil’s perspective at the beginning of this ride. We go on a journey with the master of evil, thus within the blink of an eye, there is pure energy, anger, and madness. The only thing I take issue with in this scenario are the “slower” parts (the song never really gets “slow” per se) as they seem rather unfit for the song’s mood. But maybe there’s an intellectual point to be made there. Wouldn’t surprise me. After all, it’s Helloween.
What I like about it: It’s explosive. It puts “power” into “power metal”. The chorus is actually surprisingly melodic amongst all the screaming and growling – which makes for a nice bit of balance.
What I don’t like: It’s a bit too much. I prefer thoroughly melodic, intricate pieces. Plus, if you are walking through a train station, you can’t really sing along, can you? Sure, it’s kind of funny to imagine a dude in a crowd, screaming “Kill it!” but it’s probably not a pleasant experience for bystanders. Then again, my singing never is…
When I listen to it: When I’m on the edge and/or I need to let off steam.
03 The Saints
Still in the devil’s perspective, we move on to a song about saints. Wait, what? This is another ambiguous song. But to be honest, I don’t believe that’s relevant. “The Saints” is probably the most “old-school” Helloween song on Gambling. And that’s actually kind of the problem. There is nothing really unique about it. It’s a nice song, sure, but it’s like so many other Helloween songs and I really don’t know why I should listen to this one specifically. Plus, since it is rather typical, seven minutes is a tad long. However, if you have never before heard Helloween and want to get a feel for the general style, “The Saints” is actually a very good choice.
What I like about it: It’s “old-school”. Helloween are doing what they are good at. Nothing wrong with that.
What I don’t like: For a Helloween song, it sounds generic and thus almost boring. We’ve heard this before.
When I listen to it: No particular situation – just whenever it comes up on my mp3 player or iTunes.
04 As Long As I Fall
After the string ending of “The Saints”, which reminds of dreaded Pachelbel, a simple piano melody ensues. And every time it does, it gives me the chills. Forgive me my enthusiasm, but I love me some good piano. Even though I like the kind of guitar-worship that many metal bands practice these days, I almost wish “As Long As I Fall” would feature more piano than it already does. Where this song really shines though is in the lyrics. I remember listening to this for the first time and the image of a falling man and its symbolic and metaphoric meaning just blew me away. It’s almost a shame that Deris delivers the lyrics in a weird-sounding way. I do believe that the way he does it perfectly fits the song, but I know that many people who are not used to his voice have a hard time getting into songs like this one.
What I like about it: Amazing lyrics, great backing piano, lots of personal memories tied to this song. I couldn’t be more biased.
What I don’t like: It’s difficult to make other people see why this song is so great – partly because of said bias, but also because, quite frankly, it sounds a little strange.
When I would listen to it: When going down memory lane, when I feel anxious about the future, when I have 3 minutes and 42 seconds to spare and don’t know what else to listen to.
05 Paint a New World
After a third of the album, something strange happens. Track number 5 gets surprisingly real. After songs about the devil and metaphorical falling, “Paint a New World” suddenly comments on “the news on the radio” and “scary pollution”. Environmentalism seems to have been the thing of 2007. At an exciting pace, Deris complains about the world he sees and decides to paint a new world. Power metal is all about escapism, and it’s good to know that Helloween have not forgotten that. Now, I’m not saying that burying your head in the sand is the best option, but I am definitely saying that it’s good to have that option.
What I like about it: The lyrics are moderately original. Also: watch the official video of Helloween performing this song. The energy is unbelievable, plus you can see a lot of amazing hair.
What I don’t like: Dear Andi Deris is just a tad too angry for this to be true escapism. This song is not as positive as it could be. While a new world is painted, the memory of the old one will always remain as a never-fading torture. A somewhat bleak prospect.
When I would listen to it: When I feel disillusioned, especially when I am angry about that disillusion.
06 Final Fortune
The promising title “Final Fortune”, oddly placed close to the middle of the album instead of the end, bursts out in a voluminous melodic intro, slows down momentarily, only to explode once again into the first verse. The song turns out to be a melodic struggle with fate – if you have read anything I have ever written, chances are you know I am a sucker for this. While I still detect a bit of anger in the song, the prevalent emotion is a feeling of sad acceptance. This is power metal at its best and for a long time, this used to be my favourite Helloween song. It’s certainly also one of the best tracks on the album and it is representative of the genre as such, even though it might be a bit heavier than necessary, which is particularly apparent during the solo parts.
What I like about it: Pretty much everything.
What I don’t like: Pretty much nothing.
When I would listen to it: When I feel like listening to Helloween, I often pick this song and resume random playback afterwards.
07 The Bells of the 7 Hells
You guessed it: more anger ahead. The ominous number seven is as cryptic as one might expect. Seemingly schizophrenic advice alternates with a chorus that invokes an army of every-day hell-dwellers. To me, that is almost comical. The song screams of helplessness, yet the very souls that are screaming seem to have formed a union of miserable people. And the sudden invocation of god after bragging on and on about how proud they are of their bell-ringing doesn’t quite seem appropriate. Apart from the strange lyrics, I do appreciate the very fast, insistent rhythm. Once more, I can totally accept the lack of melody in some parts of the song, as it fits the entire theme. Plus, the song ends with the sound of thunder, which is a strong moment and will be relevant for the next song, as you will see.
What I like about it: Another one of those roller-coaster songs. There is something comical about the seemingly very serious lyrics.
What I don’t like: If you can’t sit back and enjoy the ride, this song won’t do much for you. Also, one could easily get confused by the lyrics.
When I would listen to it: When I feel like a little bit of mindless enjoyment.
08 Fallen to Pieces
Another great piano in an intro that gives me chills. The thunder that hell itself conjured up in the previous song makes for an amazing first 20 seconds in “Fallen to Pieces”. But, just as the lyrics go, the brightness is borrowed for too short a time. The song literally falls to pieces. It’s not a bad song, don’t get me wrong, but it sounds much more like 3 songs mixed together. It’s a patchwork and it may very well be deliberate. But not only would I have a hard time enjoying a mashup of several different songs, I also do not like some of those parts. The first verses sound like the singer is totally fed up with everything and ready to leave. However, other parts just about manage to make up for this – and if you feel that they don’t, you can always just listen to the first 20 seconds and then move on. That always works.
What I like about it: Mainly the intro.
What I don’t like: The structure and some particular passages.
When I would listen to it: When it’s raining. I would go outside and whisper along to the intro while standing in the wind and rain. Sometimes I don’t actually listen to the rest of the song, though.
09 I. M. E.
This is probably the song I least like. Where to begin? Right. The title. It’s “I. M. E.” – Why? I am pretty sure the lyrics actually go “I am me”, why would they not use that in the title? If that were the only thing it wouldn’t be that big of a deal; after all, this is playful Helloween, a band that has a random baby’s laughter in one of their most successful songs of all time. However the very first lines are, “I should not this. I must not that.” Are there any native speakers out there who could confirm I am wrong in my assumption that this is a highly German expression translated into English? I may be wrong, but to me that doesn’t sound like proper English which would be particularly disappointing because it is after all still Helloween. The song in general is aggressive, but other than that as generic as “The Saints”. I could probably appreciate the topic of identity that the song touches upon, however, I can’t quite identify with the perspective, which seems to be that of a highschool teenager.
What I like about it: Nothing in particular, really. It’s solid work, but unoriginal.
What I don’t like: The title, the lyrics, the perspective.
When I would listen to it: No general situation, just whenever it comes up on my mp3 player or iTunes.
10 Can Do It
All right – moving on from the rather disappointing “I. M. E.” to something that, in my opinion, every proper power metal album needs: a song that tells me that I am awesome. This is the kind of feel-good-about-yourself song that my favourite band (Freedom Call) is known for. I am glad that Helloween still makes songs in this style. Sure, most metalheads will complain that “Can Do It” sounds more like rock than metal, but all I can say to that is: don’t be so pedantic – you can do it.
What I like about it: Shiny happy metal. My kind of metal. Even if it’s not that typically metal.
What I don’t like: Knowing that there are some people out there who don’t like this. Though I will admit that, as uplifting the lyrics may be, they’re not very original.
When I would listen to it: When I need a boost. This makes a hell of a good preparatory listen for exams. After you’ve done your revision, of course.
This is one song that I’m not as familiar with as I should be. Obviously I would know that it was a Helloween song if I heard it somewhere, but I probably wouldn’t remember the title. The song itself is a bit ambiguous. Someone is addressed, but it’s not quite clear who. It could be the devil, but I’d like to think that this is actually a song about dreams and about some kind of saviour that operates within the realm of those dreams. You could even read this as a love song. Either way, we have another instance of escapism, this time the escape into a dreamworld. I can only appreciate this. Plus, the very long melodic vocals in the chorus are to die for.
What I like about it: The song has a sort of pleasant ambiguity about it. We don’t quite know what that wonderful thing is that the song is about, but we know that it is wonderful. Plus the musical aspects align with my taste very well.
What I don’t like: I don’t quite know why I hardly ever listen to this song. I assume that it’s because it lacks some unique, memorable quality (similar to “The Saints” once more). It’s a shame, really.
When I would listen to it: Whenever I remember, thus: hardly ever.
12 Heaven Tells No Lies
This is the “shotgun in my dreams”-song for me. I once enthusiastically cited this line to a friend, which creeped her out quite a bit as it turned out. Needless to say, I think the images in this song are pretty interesting and also somewhat unusual. Sadly, only the chorus really sounds good. Everything else is rather generic. You may have noticed that this often happens to be the case in power metal. The middle solo isn’t quite to my liking and way too long as well. But it has always been difficult to find solos that I actually like. I do appreciate the ending, though. After promising a return to “make you hell hound drown”, the chorus kicks in for the last time then slowly makes way for musical fragments and a fading guitar. The album started with an exploding “Kill It” and ended with a feeble guitar theme that, out of breath after a 60 minutes album, fades into nothing with the prospect of a return. I think fade-outs are thoroughly unoriginal, but in this case, not even I can hate it.
What I like about it: The imagery is intricate and exciting. The chorus is appropriately catchy.
What I don’t like: The song is seven minutes long. That’s too long for what it has to offer.
When I would listen to it: I can’t quite find the right mood in which I would generally listen to this. But whenever I feel like it, I do.
To me, this album is amazing. Sure, it is not a concept album, but still there is an obvious, dark theme running throughout that catches my attention. By throwing in a few of the more cheerful tunes to lighten the mood, Helloween demonstrate that they continue to have a dominant role in the power metal scene. Listening to this will give you an exact idea of why, even after all these years, those guys are still at the very top of the power metal pile. Obviously, I don’t always listen to Gambling from start to finish and, more often than not, I don’t listen to the songs in chronological order either. I think the songs work well on their own if listened to in an appropriate mood and setting, as well as in an entire album for a good 60 minutes of exhilaration.
Just two quick notes:
– if you are an expert then you may have noticed that I didn’t mention any of the Gambling with the Devil bonus tracks. That’s because technically they are not part of the album (that’s what “bonus” means 😉 ) and quite frankly, I don’t have them. But feel free to share your thoughts if you know these songs and would like to contribute.
– As none of the provided youtube links are my uploads, I cannot be held responsible for this content and I cannot guarantee that they will remain available. Thanks for your understanding.
If you have made it this far, you are a truly open-minded person – or a metal fan. I appreciate both. Thanks for giving power metal a chance – and even if you didn’t like it or if you just skipped down here to troll me for sharing my musical preference with you, feel free to let me know what you thought, what your impressions are, and of course if you want to hear more recommendations (or if you don’t – I appreciate feedback of all kinds).